Scientists from the University of Sussex have made a breakthrough in developing a technology which could replace the GPS and Galileo systems.
The UK is currently dependent on the US for its access to the GPS system, and the EU for the Galileo satellite navigation system.
This dependence leaves the UK’s navigation systems exposed to both the risks of international politics, as well as the availability of the signal itself.
Last August, Theresa May announced a £92m satellite project for the UK to develop a rival to the EU’s Galileo in a sign she expected Britain to be frozen out of the project following Brexit.
But now, researchers from the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic Lab) at the University of Sussex have made a breakthrough in developing atomic clocks which could mean accessing a satellite signal would be unnecessary.
Dr Alessia Pasquazi from the EPic Lab explained the breakthrough:
“With a portable atomic clock, an ambulance, for example, will be able to still access their mapping whilst in a tunnel, and a commuter will be able to plan their route whilst on the underground or without mobile phone signal in the countryside.
“Portable atomic clocks would work on an extremely accurate form of geo-mapping, enabling access to your location and planned route without the need for satellite signal.
“Our breakthrough improves the efficiency of the part of the clock responsible for counting by 80%,” Dr Pasquazi added, saying it was a step forward “to seeing portable atomic clocks replacing satellite mapping, like GPS”.
Unfortunately, this won’t happen by the time the UK is cut off from accessing Galileo by the time the country leaves the EU – with Dr Pasquazi estimating that it could happen “within 20 years”.
That doesn’t mean the breakthrough isn’t enormous, as Dr Pasquazi stated: “This technology will change people’s everyday lives as well as potentially being applicable in driverless cars, drones and the aerospace industry.”
Atomic clocks are the top tier of humanity’s time measuring inventions, and lose less than a single second every ten billion years.
Unfortunately, the current devices are impossible to move around, weighing hundreds of kilograms.
The compact laser-based atomic clock developed by the University of Sussex team “could revolutionise the way we count time in the future”, according to the University’s Professor Marco Peccianti.